The City of Devi – A Book Review

The City of Devi by Manil Suri

The City of Devi by Manil Suri

The blurb on the back of the book says that this book is

A dazzling, multilayered novel that not only encompasses a searing love story but, with its epic reach, encapsulates the fate of the world.

It makes the love story sound really epic, in truth, this is more like a Bollywood love triangle set during the apocalypse, that is, if Bollywood had the guts to actually film such a story.

The story is about the trio of Sarita, Karun, and Ijaz who are trying to deal with their love triangle in the middle of a war. India and Pakistan are at war, and on the brink of destroying each other with nukes. China is instigating this war for its own nefarious reasons, and the rest of the world are troubled with their own conflicts. Basically, the scenario for this story is a setting where World War 3 is inevitable.

In this setting, Sarita sets off in search of her missing husband through the violence and the chaos of Mumbai. She unexpectedly meets Ijaz who helps her in her search for some reason which she cannot fathom. In spite of their mutual dislike and suspicion of each other, they manage to reach their goal and find Sarita’s husband – Karun and rescue him from his imprisonment at the hands of Devi ma and her goons.

The last sentence has you scratching your head? Never mind, this is a book that cannot be summarized very easily, and you will be better off reading the book than reading blogs for the book summary. A lot of pleasure reading this book will be lost if you are already ready for the nature of the story.

That said, here’s my review of the story. I have tried to avoid spoilers but…you know how it goes. It’s pretty difficult to avoid them.

My Review:

I think I am actually starting to like dystopia! First, The Handmaid’s Tale, which I loved and now this book.

This book is all kinds of wonderful in all kinds of unexpected ways. It’s the third in a largely unconnected trilogy. The earlier books are:

  • The Death of Vishnu, and
  • The Age of Shiva

I haven’t read the first two books and had no problems with the story. The novels don’t need to be read together at all. It’s just a trilogy in terms of the ideas, I guess, but not with the actual story.

There is satire galore and the story veers from romantic to humorous and then downright outrageous as Suri packs in more and more over-the-top action.

A story about India and Pakistan war and religious intolerance can get very political very fast and here’s an example of that kind of politics…

Well let me tell you, my flag-waving Jazmine, while you were swilling beer and chocolate with the American and Swiss, I was being bottle-fed the Indian dream. Nehru and Gandhi … the whole secular ideal. So what if our government perpetrated years of carnage against its own citizens in Kashmir? Or systematically filtered Muslims out from its armed forces and police regiments. Or turned a blind eye each time the Hindus decided to here and there roast a few minorities alive?

But truth be told, there isn’t thaaat much of the political ranting. I mean I read stuff like the above all the time in newspapers and magazines, and I don’t need/want to read that in fiction as well.

Thankfully, the focus soon shifts to the personal love triangle between Sarita, Ijaz, and Karun. I don’t want to talk too much about it. It’s very well-written and very interesting. BUT, if you have a low tolerance for sex (particularly gay sex) in books, then this is not the book for you.

I didn’t mind all the shenanigans. In fact, I quite liked the glimpses into another way of life. I enjoyed the thrill of the shikhar along with Ijaz and I in turn sympathized, was awestruck, and then amused by the single-minded determination with which Sarita tries to seduce her husband.

So, yes, there is a lot more sex than I am used to in a book. But the adventure story is strong enough to make this book not just a love triangle. When Karun is trapped by Hindu extremists and in the clutches of Devi-ma herself, it is up to his Muslim lover Ijaz to come to the rescue…on an elephant no less with Sarita dressed up in a glow-in-the-dark Sari as Devi-ma herself. Pure Bollywood, and pure entertainment.

Once the rescue is affected, it’s primarily a who gets who kind of situation, which unfortunately did not end to my satisfaction. To me, the ending is a copout to avoid dealing with the difficulties of the triangle. The ending is also a copout in dealing with the fate of the world as well.

I wouldn’t have minded reading another 100 pages extra just to have a more meaningful and less clichéd ending to what is a marvelous story in all other ways. I guess I just wasn’t ready to be done with the book :).

Still it’s a lovely book, and I am glad that I got the chance to read it.

Thanks to W W Norton for sending me a copy of this book to read and review.

  • It does have loads of sex in it! Agree with you on almost every thing in the review. I think he meant the book to be a cliched Bollywood fare 🙂 Mass appeal, I guess.

    • @Shweta: It kind of satirizes Bollywood, I think. Mass appeal or no, I enjoyed it 🙂

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